Friday 16 July 2010

Safety and Protection in Dangerous Places—Part 4

Attention!     Pas op!      ¡Ojo!     Look Out!
Detail from the cover of Safety First (2010), Save the Children
"There is a perception that giving too much priority to staff safety and security will create constraints on the fundamental mission of the organisation. That mission is to provide assistance to people in need. There is indeed an incomprehensible element of risk in humanitarian aid work. Nonetheless good security management is also a tool to help agencies enter and remain in danger zones. It can help to avoid the loss of assets and especially staff, through accident or incident, and thus helps the agency to provide assistance. In addition, sometimes a laudable emphasis on being "operational" can also hide an institutional self-interest in market share, visibility, and cash flow, at the expense of staff safety and security."
K. Van Brabant, Mainstreaming Safety and Security Management in Aid Agencies, Humanitarian Practice Group Briefing (March 2001, p. 1-2, slightly adjusted for clarity).

What types of risks do mission/aid workers encounter? What type of training can sending groups provide to help mission/aid workers manage these risks? And how do sending groups put into practice Principle 7 from the People in Aid Code of Good Practice (2003): “The security, good health, and safety of our staff are a prime responsibility of our organization" ( This entry describes two more resources about safety and protection. 

We continue to clarify and expand our definition of  “dangerous places.” It now includes four broad areas or "environments."
Physical environments marked by life-threatening hazards including war, human rights violations, poverty, and disease (as well as road traffic and household-related accidents)
Organizational environments in which poor management/governance can wreak havoc on both staff and operational objectives (including unresolved relational difficulties and ongoing organizational dysfunction)
Moral environments contaminated by human corruption which exploits and injures others (Corruption is defined by Transparency International as the ‘abuse of entrusted power for personal gain.’ Covering up or ignoring corruption can be as reprehensible and damaging as the corruption itself).
Personal environments whereby an individual's serious problems can significantly interfere with his/her work/wellbeing and that of others.

Resource Seven
Safety First: A Field Security Manual for NGO Staff (2010 edition), Save the Children.
This practical and highly recommended book offers guidance on a variety of safety/security issues relevant for mission/aid workers and sending groups. For example, do you have any idea what to do if you or a colleague gets stuck in the middle of a mine field? The book covers these broad areas with lots of advice and "how to's":
• “personal security awareness and staying healthy in the field
• working in conflict environments and dealing with security threats
• travel and site safety and security
• field communications
• natural hazards and disasters
• relocating and evacuating staff
• incident monitoring and information management.”
(; go to this link and click on the Google Preview icon to have a look at some of this book's content)

“Before they start work in areas of armed conflict, newly appointed employees should be briefed on the local security situation and the relevant safety precautions. There after provide your staff with security updates at regular intervals throughout their employment. These could take the form of team meetings in which responsible officers provide accurate, up-to-date information on the security situation. During these meetings employees should be encouraged to: share their experiences, voice their anxieties, express their opinions, and suggest improvements in security.” Safety First: Protecting NGO Employees in Areas of Conflict (1998 edition)

Resource Eight
Supporting Expatriate Women in Difficult Settings is the title of chapter 40 from Doing Member Care Well (2002). The author, Annemie Grosshauser, looks at the coping challenges and strategies of women regarding their personal, spiritual, and team life and their roles/identity/lifestyle. Much of the material is also applicable to men.

“Going through the marketplace in a male-dominated country, being single in a family-centered society, working in the context of very different and sometimes hostile cultural and religious settings, educating children without proper school systems, trying to show compassion to people in need, serving together in a multicultural team—these are some of the challenges confronting expatriate women.” “Supporting Expatriate Women in Difficult Settings” (Doing Member Care Well,  p. 419).

Reflection and Discussion—Add Comments Below
1. Recall an experience that you have had in a physical, organizational, and/or moral environment that was dangerous. What were a few things that you did to help you to survive and stay healthy?

2. Whose safety comes first: that of mission/aid staff or those who mission/aid staff are helping? Why?

3. What criteria/values do you use to determine acceptable risk for mission/aid staff?

4. Does your sending group provide pre-deployment and field briefings regarding security and safety matters? If so, how?

5. List a few differences between the challenges for women and men in a mission/aid setting with which you are familiar (e.g., acceptable gender roles, work load, issues for singles). Think in terms of both local and international staff.

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